Life, Death and the Force – The Cyclical Universe of Star Wars

“It’s like poetry, sort of, they rhyme. Every stanza kinda rhymes with the last one. Hopefully it’ll work.”

Since George Lucas first uttered that infamous phrase in the behind-the-scenes documentary of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, it has been met by a keen combination of derision and fascination from Star Wars fans. Some see this is prove of Lucas’ lazy writing, whilst others see it as the purest presentation of the creator’s intent for the universe he created.

The moment the infamous quote was uttered

The narrative of Star Wars has included elements of repetition and mirror-images since its inception, so if we dig a little deeper into what George meant by this, however, we might discover a new way to interpret how the Star Wars story is told, or at the very least learn a little more about how George wanted Star Wars to be remembered in the future.

Let’s start at the beginning – sort of. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope is not where the Star Wars story starts, but it is where the story started for many fans of the series, as it was the first film to be released. Already this tells us a lot about how George wanted Star Wars to be consumed as a medium, as he apparently had the basics of the entire saga planned from the beginning and yet chose to start with what would later become ‘Episode 4’ because he believed it was the most interesting part of the story.

Bear in mind that this has to be taken with a pinch of salt, as George has also claimed at various points over the years that ‘The Star Wars’ was originally going to be 12-parts long, or that he deliberately skipped making Episodes I-III in the 1970s because the technology to actualize them hadn’t been invented yet. Nonetheless, if we take George’s word for it, the saga was planned out to some degree before Episode IV even started production, and despite the fact that Episodes IV-VI are regarded by many as the perfect trilogy to rival The Lord of the Rings, it seems it was always George’s intention to have these three films be the middle trilogy of a much larger saga.

Things start to get interesting when you start to consider the manner in which George Lucas went about created the prequel trilogy. Either by long-planned design or spur-of-the-moment inspiration, George chose to deliberately echo the events of the original films in the prequels, to the extent that the parallels are so overt that they barely classify as subtext. The infamous ‘poetry’ quote from the start of this article was first uttered in reference to the fact that Anakin blowing up the Trade Federation ship at the end of Episode I is strikingly similar to Luke blowing up the Death Star at the end of Episode IV, but this similarity isn’t the result of lazy writing on Lucas’ part, it was intentional – apparently.

Upon realising this, one can find these sorts of similarities everywhere in Star Wars, most notably the Luke vs Vader fight in Episode V mirroring the Anakin vs Obi-Wan fight in Episode III. Delving into the Expanded Universe gives fans even more poetry to rhyme with, as we discover that the ‘New Republic’ established at the end of Episode VI only lasts for about a quarter of a decade before the Galaxy descends into chaos again. Even when Disney bought the franchise and rendered the entire Expanded Universe non-canon, they stuck with the basic story of a Skywalker child turning evil and bringing back the Empire.

The question is – why? Surely this cyclical narrative structure devalues everything that made the original trilogy so good? Surely watching Return of the Jedi will now leave a sour taste in your mouth as you know that within thirty years the entire galaxy is at war again?

Well… not really. The ending of Return of the Jedi has lost none of its impact, in the same way that the heavy-hitting ending of Revenge of the Sith is in no way impacted by the fact that the next film is called ‘A New Hope’. The reason for this is that we are already used to cyclical storytelling as humans, because that’s basically the narrative structure of our own history. One of the beautiful things about Star Wars is that it tells two important stories – the huge, diverse galactic conflict spanning dozens of planets, and the smaller introspective story of a small family and how the choices of individuals impact the wider universe.

And whilst this is as much due to a happy accident and the incredible work of thousands of talented people as it is to the scrawlings of an idealistic filmmaker in the 1970s, the end result is the same. Star Wars is a series that reflects one of the fundamental truths of life, in that whilst there are happy endings to stories, there is rarely such things as a ‘happily ever after’.

Revan, a powerful ancient Sith Lord

This is made especially clear when one delves even further into the now non-canon Expanded Universe. Did you know that 4000 years before the events of A New Hope, there was another Old Republic that had previously stood for a thousand generations, that was betrayed by a fallen Jedi, and was then transformed into an Empire only to be reformed back into a Republic by a band of Rebels? Did you also know that 120 years after A New Hope, another Sith Empire rises and has to be battled by Luke’s great-grandchildren? This is perhaps the clearest illustration of Lucas’ vision – the idea that heroes and villains rise and fall, dark and light are locked in eternal struggle, and the entire Galaxy is a stage to the cyclical ouroboros of the Force itself.

So what does this tell us about Star Wars as a whole? Have fans been barking up the wrong tree by complaining about its cyclical story structure? Is Star Wars actually a subtley veiled allegory to the vicious cycle of boom and bust in the capitalist economic system, or perhaps an illustration of the futility of warfare on a global scale? The real answer is… maybe. It is difficult to tell whether that is the intention of the filmmakers or simply coincidence that the story structure of Star Wars ended up this way, but it makes for interestng analysis. One thing that is certain is that, like all good science fiction stories, Star Wars is a parable. Deciphering its meaning is a whole different behemoth, as it can be interpreted in so many different ways – perhaps that is part of the reason why the franchise endures to this day, as its constant reinvention and enigmatic morality keep it fresh for each new generation that experiences it.

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Doctor Who Feature – The Twelfth Doctor Era: Is Peter Capaldi the Definitive Doctor?

Doctor Who has its ups and downs, as anything that runs for over 50 years does. After all this time, the show perhaps as well known for its dud season arcs, madcap plots and failed experiments as it is for its creativity, memorable characters and iconic villains. For every modern classic like Series 4, there is a legendary failure like Series 7 – and nothing illustrates this point more than the Peter Capaldi era. This three series long chunk of the New Series that lasted from 2014 to 2017 presented audiences with some of the best Doctor Who content of the decade – and also some of the worst. But can the flaws of the Capaldi era truly dampen its successes? Do fans look back on the era fondly or harshly? Is Peter Capaldi actually the definitive Doctor? We aim to find out.

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The Grumpy Doctor

Upon his initial casting, Peter Capaldi proved to be somewhat of a controversial choice to play the Doctor, despite having all the necessary traits required to play the Doctor. Due to the fact that the previous two Doctors, who had a combined tenure of nearly ten years, were both young and handsome incarnations, the show had got used to that idea being a staple of the series – in fact, it could be argued that Clara’s entire relationship with the Eleventh Doctor in Series 7 was based around the fact that he was young and handsome. As such, the fact that the Twelfth Doctor was cast as an old man was a sudden and jarring change to the series, one that many viewers felt shook the foundations of the show a little too much.

But there was more to this shakeup than just the casting. Moffat’s decision to write the Twelfth Doctor as a grumpy and at times even cold character in his first series was a bold one, and it certainly shook the series up even more for Series 8. The reaction of a sizeable portion of the fanbase at the time when this was all first announced was then reflected in Clara’s reaction to the Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration – the look on her face perfectly visualises what many fans were feeling at the time. In many ways, the situation was somewhat comparable to the reaction to the casting of the Thirteenth Doctor, albeit for very different reasons. In the run-up to Series 8, fans were wondering whether the show could pull off such a radical change to its comfortable tried-and-tested formula.

Overall, Series 8 is somewhat of a mixed bag. There are definitely some genuine gems in this series, episodes like Mummy On The Orient Express, Flatline and Time Heist are enduring classics that most fans agree are the standouts of the series. Following these are the episodes that some fans love, but other fans despite – episodes like Robots of Sherwood, Listen and the too-often overlook Into the Dalek. The series does play host to some really terrible episodes, however, such as In the Forest of the Night and the truly abominable Kill the Moon, an episode that is only worth watching for Clara’s final confrontation with the Doctor due to Jenna Coleman’s astounding acting – other than that, the episode may as well have never existed. The two episodes of note that are particularly divisive are the first episode, Deep Breath, and the two-part finale, Dark Water/Death in Heaven. The former is a strange episode to put at as the opener to a series, as it requires too much prior lore knowledge to be accessible to newcomers. The latter is a finale that, although making fantastic use of the Cybermen and Missy, was notoriously dark and was responsible for genuinely upsetting some fans in a way that didn’t sit right with many people.

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The Hybrid

For Series 9, Moffat introduced a gradual change to the Twelfth Doctor’s character that would be truly actualised in Series 10. Grappling with the choices necessary to truly define himself as a good man, Series 9 sees the Twelfth Doctor tested in several ways, with each story presented a piece of the best and worst of the character. This is mirrored in the format of the series and the accompanying titles of each episode – most of the stories in this series are two-parters, with titles that oppose one another. This presentation of the character was certainly an improvement over the Series 8 version of the Doctor in the eyes of most fans, but still retained enough of the abrasive Series 8 Doctor that those who had grown attached to Capaldi’s Doctor were not disappointed.

Series 9 of Doctor Who, however, suffers from an entirely different issue, which ironically has almost nothing to do with the Doctor himself. The hamfisted attempt to insert an arc into this series with the lacklustre ‘Hybrid’ buzzword failed to click with many fans and the end result, revealed in the controversial finale Hell Bent, left many fans confused. However, Capaldi’s performance as the Twelfth Doctor was exemplary and, although the scripts themselves left something to be desired, the combination of Capaldi and Coleman’s fantastic acting was able to carry Series 9 despite its flaws – and this was enhanced thanks to guest appearances from Maisie Williams, Donald Sumpter and Julian Bleach that made Series 9 feel like the blockbuster run that it was designed to be.

Ultimately, the highlights of the series have to be those that are the most steeped in lore – the opening two-parter The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar make a fantastic opening to the series, and the penultimate episode Heaven Sent has to rank as one of the best episodes of Doctor Who of all time. There is a definite pattern to the quality of episodes in Series 9 – the best ones are the ones in which Capaldi himself stands out. From his emotive anti-war speech in The Zygon Inversion to his one-man-band performance in Heaven Sent, the Twelfth Doctor is by far the best thing about Series 9. Whilst the series itself it usually met with mixed reviews from fans, none can deny that it is Capaldi who makes the series – with almost any other Doctor at the helm, Series 9 may not have been the success that it was.

Although the ‘Hybrid’ arc seemed tacked on and rushed, the theme actually relates a lot to the Doctor himself and where his character was at this point. Series 9 presents us with a true Hybrid Doctor – a fusion of his Series 8 and Series 10 personalities that occasionally clash but more often than not showcase the gradual development of the character, particularly with hindsight. Critics of the Twelfth Doctor argue that his character was poorly written as each series seems to portray a completely different interpretation of the Doctor, and they are correct – but this is hardly a criticism. Capaldi plays perhaps one of the most dynamic Doctors of them all, changing from a brusque and occasionally mean character to a warm and merciful Doctor who understands his own moralistic limitations and does his best to do the right thing. The most interesting Doctors are the ones who grow and change over the course of their tenure – the Seventh Doctor and the Ninth Doctor both experienced this kind of development, but none have had such a structured three-stage character arc over as many seasons. Those who stopped watching the show after Capaldi’s first season due to the negative reception his character received were not privy to the incredible change that was apparent by Series 10, meaning they never got to understand why his character had to be that way in Series 8. But what was so special about this arc that it warranted having the Doctor act so un-Doctorish for a season?

series9.5 capaldi

Never be Cruel, Never be Cowardly

To answer that question we have to go back to the beginning. In its early days, Doctor Who was not fully established, either in its popularity and fanbase or in its own personal identity. Fans of newer versions of the show, even as early as 80s Who, may be shocked if they choose to watch some earlier episodes by just how un-Doctorish the Doctor himself acts. William Hartnell himself actually contributed a lot to the development of the Doctor as a man of strict ethical principles after disagreeing with how the character was handled in the first ever season of the show, in which the Doctor regularly tricks and manipulates his companions, influences events to suit himself, and even on one or two occasions attempts murder. As the character traits of the Doctor became established, these character-breaking moments were seemingly brushed under the rug.

In the modern day, the New Series has reinforced the idea of the Doctor as principled and ethically conscious, but many fans have taken the idea of the Doctor as a ‘man who never would’ as gospel – particularly during the Tennant era – to the point where the idea of the Doctor shooting someone becomes completely unjustifiable. This is a nice sentiment, and ‘the man who never would’ is certainly how the Doctor himself wants to be seen the majority of the time, but those who buy into this have forgotten the ‘rule one’ of travelling with the Doctor – he lies. A lot. In fact, we already know that when the Tenth Doctor utters the line “I never would” in regards to using guns, we already know he is lying. The Doctor has shot and killed people many times throughout the show, a famous example being in Day of the Daleks when the Third Doctor steals a laser and blasts an Ogron. Following the Time War, the battle-scarred and guilt-ridden Doctor invents a persona for himself that exaggerates and hyperbolises all of his pre-Time War traits of honesty, mercy, pacifism etc to alleviate his guilt, but it is not a true reflection of his character. We know that the Doctor is prone to rage, and occasionally makes bad choices. Unfortunately, one particular bad choice has sullied the Twelfth Doctor with a bad reputation that is not entirely justified.

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The choice in question of course refers to the scene in Hell Bent in which the Doctor shoots the General. Fans have grappled over this scene and its implications, with some citing the fact that the Doctor had been driven mad with grief in that episode as justification, and others even going so far as to say it is proof that the show itself has lost its way. However, looking back on this entire situation, it seems fans on both sides of the argument need to re-assess the scene with the benefit of hindsight and the context of the episode. For those not in the know, the Doctor shoots and ‘kills’ The General after the latter refuses to allow Clara to escape from Gallifrey. Prior to this, the Doctor had spent 4.5 billion years living the same day over and over again, dying each time, and had now finally escaped and found a way of bringing his friend back – the thing that had kept him going the whole time. Considering all of these factors, and then adding to that the fact that the General is able to regenerate and that he had previously helped keep the Doctor imprisoned, adds a lot more to this situation than simply ‘The Doctor killed someone.’ In fact, this seems far more reasonable than the Third Doctor shooting an Ogron.

And yet, this scene does achieve something tangible – it is an important turning point in the second major change to the Doctor’s character. This scene represents the culmination of the ‘Clara arc’, a pseudo-unofficial story arc that essentially starts with Asylum of the Daleks that is supposed to showcase the best and worst parts of a close friendship. Clara and the Doctor are good friends, and they both help each other through serious tragedies in their respective lives. They are both flawed characters, and their flaws overlap – each one is too dependant on the other, and the fact that their friendship was set up by Missy goes to show how destructive it has the potential to be. The notion of the Doctor and Clara being the Hybrid may seem ridiculous, but it is Moffat attempting (in a somewhat ham-fisted way) to illustrate the point that Clara and the Doctor are in many ways two sides of the same coin – their personalities, their motives, their tendency for lies and showing off are all similar – yet ultimately they must be separated otherwise the Doctor runs the risk of sacrificing everything for her. The Doctor shooting the General acts as a wake-up call, both for Clara and the Doctor himself, that their friendship is no longer healthy and that they need to separate. If you look at the Series 9 finale in this light, it is actually a mature and introspective story that showcases how far the Twelfth Doctor had developed by this point – the seemingly unfeeling angry Doctor from Series 8 is gone, replaced with a far more compassionate man who is willing to go to any lengths to save his best friend – even if it kills him.

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The Grandfather Doc

The version of the Twelfth Doctor that we saw at the end of Series 9 sets up the plot of Series 10 perfectly – with Clara gone, the Doctor strikes up relationships with friends new and old in a way that the Series 8 Doctor would not have been able to do. With this newfound persona he is able to make peace with River Song, befriend Bill and even teach Missy how to be good, showing that even without Clara the Twelfth Doctor is just as much a paragon of virtue as the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors tried to be. But perhaps the most important facet of the Twelfth Doctor’s character development that takes place in Series 10 is his relationship with Bill and how that evolves. Initially taking on Bill as a student, their teacher-student dynamic gradually develops as the Doctor becomes a more paternal figure in her life, and this is a fantastic parallel of the very first Doctor-companion dynamic in the show – that of Grandfather and Grandchild. This is further implied in Bill’s first episode, in which the Doctor looks to Susan’s portrait when trying to decide whether to involve Bill with the dangers of TARDIS travel.

This is perhaps one of Moffat’s greatest achievements with the Twelfth Doctor, and many fans say that Series 10 has the best ‘feel’ of the three Capaldi seasons, as the friendship between the Doctor, Bill and Nardole seemed to resonate more with viewers than the Doctor and Clara’s had. It would be hard to imagine the Series 8 version of the Twelfth Doctor working in Series 10, as his pricklier personality and demeanour would clash more with Bill’s fun-loving attitude, but after two seasons of gradual character development the Twelfth Doctor proves himself to be everything that the Doctor should be, and more – Series 10 doesn’t just present the Doctor as a hero who saves planets, but also as a form of therapist, even counsellor. For fifty years he is able to provide Missy with a stable environment in which she can work towards casting off her evil ways and embracing the good in life, and with just a few months of tuition the Doctor is able to raise Bill’s grades and inspire her with new confidence, all before she even sets foot in the TARDIS.

The Twelfth Doctor in Series 10 is in many ways the ideal Doctor – perhaps even the definitive Doctor. Some may think it a shame that the Doctor didn’t simply start out with this personality from the beginning, and whilst it may have been lighter on viewers at the time if the Doctor had emerged fresh from regeneration as a kindhearted old man, but there is an argument that Moffat did the right thing from the start. The Twelfth Doctor was referred to earlier in this article as one of the most dynamic Doctors of them all, and this is due to his three-season long character development. Without the Series 8 version of the Doctor and his brusque attitude, the emotional weight behind Series 9 and 10 loses some of its impact, as part of what makes his character so interesting and likeable is his painstaking transition from a grumpy old man to a truly definitive Doctor.

Doctor Who Christmas Special 2017

The Definitive Doctor

There will of course be those who disagree, but overall Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor represents all the best aspects of the character. He is a righteous character, yet aware of his own moral hypocrisy. He is a kind and caring figure, yet he is also among the angriest and most utilitarian of the Doctors. His speech to the Master and Missy at the climax of The Doctor Falls perfectly summarises this – he admits that, although he doesn’t always get it right, he tries as hard as he can to be kind. Throughout his entire tenure the Twelfth Doctor grapples with the question of ‘Am I a Good Man?’, and it is in this scene that we, the audience, finally receive a definitive answer. The Doctor lays down his life for innocent people he doesn’t even know, and his final regeneration speech outlining what it means to be a Doctor proves that Capaldi himself has a deep understanding of the character.

If you are a former fan of the show who lost interest midway through the 2010s, or perhaps even earlier, then hopefully this article has made some points that will make you reconsider your stance on Capaldi’s Doctor. With hindsight, and the wider knowledge of the show that newer fans may have gained thanks to the rising popularity of the Classic Series, it is clear that many of the criticisms that were levied against Capaldi were either grossly exaggerated, such as claims of him being ‘too old’, or simply unfair, such as blaming him for the occasional bad episode like Sleep No More or Kill the Moon. Each and every Doctor is faced with criticism like this – Matt Smith was ‘too young’ for the role according to many in 2010, and nobody needs reminding of the frenzy of baseless criticism levied against Jodie Whittaker before Series 11 even aired.

Ultimately, the Twelfth Doctor era speaks for itself. Even amid the aforementioned terrible episodes it hosted, as well as others like In the Forest of the Night, the era also gave us some of the best instant classics of the modern era of Doctor Who. Episodes like Heaven Sent, Flatline, Mummy on the Orient Express, Oxygen, World Enough and Time and The Doctor Falls will be remembered for years to come and proves that, even after more than 10 years, the New Series still has plenty of excellent stories to tell. Moving forward there is certainly a lot that the show can learn from the mistakes of the Capaldi era, but after the lacklustre Series 11, there is definitely a lot that Chibnall can learn from the Capaldi era’s resounding successes. Without a character-driven story Doctor Who can appear to lack substance, and this was an issue that plagued the Thirteenth Doctor’s debut season despite the writer’s best efforts to make her quirky and likeable. The irony is that Capaldi’s grumpy first-series persona is a far more interesting character than the typical do-gooder Doctor, and Moffat was able to blend the best elements of both worlds by having a brusque Doctor early on, that evolves into the definitive Doctor over time.

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So, to answer the question that sparked this lengthy feature-style blog post: Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor is the Definitive Doctor. Though it takes him time to get to that point, when he gets there, fans have to agree that it is worth the wait. It is a classic case of not truly knowing what it is you had until it suddenly disappears. Obviously there are some that may not agree – that is the nature of the fanbase. For some fans in 2014, the hardest part of being a fan after Series 8 was accepting Capaldi as the Doctor. But now, after a brief but legendary tenure, the hardest part for many is letting him go.

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Transformers – How Did Michael Bay Screw Up Starscream?

Starscream. The name has almost become an adjective in itself for characters that are traitorous, two-faced, sycophantic or conniving. Not only has the original Starscream been reinvented many times throughout the various iterations of the Transformers franchise, but characters in other shows, films and video games have taken inspiration from him. Starscream is certainly one of the most recognisable from the original series alongside Optimus Prime, Megatron and Bumblebee and almost every iteration of the character has been resoundingly popular with the fanbase. However, oddly enough, the Michael Bay Transformers films managed to perform the seemingly impossible – they managed to screw up Starscream.

One might ask how, since the logical thing for the film series to do would be to do what it did with almost every other Transformers character – have them be an almost exact carbon copy of their G1 personality, with almost none of the character development. In the first Transformers film, however, Starscream seems to be just like any other Decepticon – he lacks the iconic voice, he displays no traitorous intent whatsoever, and all we are really told about the character is that he often fails Megatron – and we only know that thanks to a single line during their only on-screen conversation in the first film in which Megatron says “You fail me yet again, Starscream.” So essentially, going off the first film alone, Starscream comes across as just another of Megatron’s incompetent lackeys. In the after-credits sequence, we see Starscream blasting off into space – which was obviously sequel-bait, but at least gave the audience something to remember him for.

Come Revenge of the Fallen, however, and suddenly things have changed dramatically. Now having inexplicably gained his G1 voice to replace the alien rasp he spoke with in the first film, Starscream is again bullied and kicked around by Megatron for no real reason – he is annoyed that Starscream took the mantle of Decepticon leader, but given the fact that Megatron was dead and rotting at the bottom of the ocean, and that the Fallen had asked Starscream to raise a hatchling army, this seems a flimsy excuse for abuse. A similar issue plagues Dark of the Moon, as Starscream seems to be loyal, if a little sychophantic, and yet Megatron still treats him like dirt. One would think that, with so many of his soldiers being killed in every film, Megatron would actually grow to appreciate Starscream – not for his unwavering devotion despite the constant failure of Megatron’s plans, but simply for surviving this long.

Having said that, Starscream’s impressive survival streak is brought to a sudden and jarring end in the final act of the third film, as he is unceremoniously killed off by Sam, of all people. Starscream’s death is one of several in the third film that were included when the filmmakers assumed that the third Transformers would be the last – as a result, every single Decepticon is killed, even Megatron, and although other incarnations of Starscream had a knack for returning from the dead, it would seem that the movie-universe Starscream is dead for good this time. Looking back on the character’s presentation in the three movies in which he appears, it is obvious that he was grossly mishandled – like many other classic characters in the live-action movies – but the real question is: how? How is it possible to screw up such a tried-and-tested, almost cookie-cutter character as Starscream?

To answer that question, we must first look at the wider issue of how the villains of the Transformers films, particularly the Decepticon characters, are used. As alluded to in How to Fix Michael Bay’s Transformers Films – Part Two: Decepticontinuity, the writers of these films were obviously not concerned with how effectively the villains were presented – as far as they were concerned, the names ‘Megatron’ and ‘Starscream’ held enough brand recognition in themselves that audiences would project their own recollections of the characters onto them. As a result, hardly any effort is put into actually establishing the motivations, personalities or conflicts of the villains aside from what is absolutely essential to make the framework of the story. In other words, the villains are only developed when the writers realise they absolutely have to be, and as a result they all come across as one-dimensional.

Starscream is as treacherous as ever in G1, but is he as well-established in the movies? The short answer is no, the long answer can be found at Sacred Icon
In G1, Starscream was known for his continuous attempts to betray or overthrow Megatron throughout the series that firmly established his character in the minds of the audience

Starscream is the perfect example of this – we never see or even hear about any treacherous ideas that he might have, the writers just have Megatron constantly refer to him as ‘treacherous’ despite there being no evidence for this. This uninspired ‘tell-don’t-show’ method of storytelling wouldn’t seem out of place in a Star Wars Prequel, and it even continues after Starscream’s death – the appearance of his decapitated head in The Last Knight (despite the fact it was blown up in Dark of the Moon) and the fact that Megatron still refers to him as ‘treacherous’ showcases just how little the writers cared about the character. Even a relatively generic and by-the-books depiction of Starscream, such as the version seen in Transformers: Animated, is leagues ahead of the Starscream seen in the movies.

Hopefully this article has shed some light on how Michael Bay managed to screw up Starscream in the Transformers films. To read more deconstruction of the Michael Bayverse, click the links down below. Be sure to leave a like if you want to read more Transformers content!

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Doctor Who – Is Big Finish Canon?

The idea of ‘Canon’ in Doctor Who is a unique one, most notably because of how fans of the show interpret the idea differently to that of other shows. In the conventional sense, a franchise’s ‘Canon’ is the established set of works that are a part of the ‘official’ story or universe of that franchise. Normally franchises headed by a single writer will have a strict set of rules as to what is considered ‘Canon’, examples being the Harry Potter universe and the Lord of the Rings series, which both have installments either written or partially written by other authors, meaning that their ‘Canon’ status is debated among fans. Other franchises have experienced controversial alterations to the established ‘Canon’, either via the introduction of alternate universes as in Transformers or Marvel, or a complete behind-the-scenes upheaval of the timeline, such as what Disney did to Star Wars.

‘Canon’ in Doctor Who, however, has a slightly different twist to it – since the show deals with the concept of time travel, paradoxes, re-writing history and alternate universes on a weekly basis, it is a generally established fact within the Doctor who fan community that, as time can be rewritten, anything and everything written or produced for Doctor Who has the potential to be ‘Canon’ in the sense that they once happened, but were overwritten within the show’s history – examples of this include the original Dalek origin story with the Dals and the infamous ‘Dimensions in Time’ Children in Need Special. This essentially opens the floodgates and renders the concept of ‘Canon’ in Doctor Who obsolete, since even within the televised show itself there have been instances of the events of certain episodes being wiped from the timeline. Even so, the debate over whether productions created by companies that the BBC licences to create Doctor Who media should be considered ‘Canon’, most notably, the Big Finish Audio Series.

Since their inception, the Big Finish Audios have attempted to fill narrative gaps or exploit untapped potential from the Classic Series, and this is one of the biggest draws to the series for Classic Who fans who yearn for more episodes from their favourite Classic Doctors. There are instances of the timelines of specific Doctors relying heavily on the Big Finish audios, such as the Sixth and Eighth Doctors, and without those audios in the ‘Canon’ these Doctors would have incomplete tenures. As Big Finish’s range of audios grows, their influence on the established timeline of Doctor Who grows also – a clear example of this is their release of The Brink of Death, which is the Sixth Doctor’s official regeneration story. The same phenomenon is true of the more recent Big Finish productions related to the revived series, such as the new U.N.I.T. series and the Time War series, and the fact that the BBC has granted Big Finish the rights to the New Series as well as the rights to use the new logo and branding suggests that they have been firmly entrenched in ‘Canon’ status.

Nevertheless, for the many fans who have not experienced the Big Finish audios, they seem more like optional extras than an essential part of the Doctor Who timeline, and it all really boils down to personal experience and opinion. But in many ways, that is what is so great about Doctor Who’s ‘Canon’ – it is entirely personal to one’s experiences with the show and its associated media. Those who grew up reading the Doctor Who books are far more likely to consider them to be as ‘Canon’ as the televised series itself, particularly since many of the Doctor Who books are superb, and yet those who have not read the books can still get full enjoyment out of the show and the audios, and so on. This is indicative of the flexible and accessible nature of Doctor Who as a series – although the sheer mass of televised episodes, audios, books and other associated media can seem daunting, the show can actually be accessed quite easily across its many eras and formats thanks to the diverse range of stand-alone stories.

And finally, should the matter of ‘Canon’ really impact ones enjoyment of a piece of media? After all, the recent decision by Disney to rebrand the Star Wars Expanded Universe as the ‘non-Canon’ Legends series may have caused controversy among the fanbase, but that is only because they loved those stories so much – yet the stories themselves are still there, and can still be enjoyed just as easily whether they are ‘Canon’ or not. In answer to the overall question of whether the Big Finish Audios are canon or not, there is realistically only one answer – yes. The BBC has accepted Big Finish’s continuity with open arms, even giving them the rights to almost all of the characters in the revival including the Tenth Doctor, Rose, Donna, Osgood and the War Doctor, and Big Finish is slowly beginning to influence the main show too – the Eighth Doctor recites all of his Big Finish companions in the 50th Anniversary minisode The Night of the Doctor. But ultimately, the question of ‘Canon’ in Doctor Who is an irrelevant one, particularly given the temporal or ‘timey-wimey’ nature of the show, and Doctor Who fans should simply enjoy the vast array of visual and audio media available to us.

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Doctor Who – Ranking the NuWho Finales

Due to the change in the format of Doctor Who between the Classic Series and NuWho, a lot more emphasis is placed on the ‘Series Finale’, i.e. the final episode of a series, usually a two-parter, that often involves big shakeups or changes in the status quo for the show. These include, but are not limited to: regenerations, the death or departure of the current companion, big plot reveals or appearances by well-known recurring villains. Since these episodes are so important to their respective seasons, it seems only fair to rank these episodes against each other to see which is the best. It must be noted that I am ranking these episodes based on their quality but also their effectiveness at tying up the plot elements of the series they conclude, so it may not simply be the case of the better episodes being higher. So, to begin:

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10 – Hell Bent

Perhaps a predictable choice as there is no shortage of hate for this episode within the fandom, Hell Bent is a classic example of wasted potential. Regardless of any personal feelings towards the episode (which I actually feel is a lot better than many give it credit for) Hell Bent comes bottom of this list because it fails almost all of its tasks to round off Series 9. What was the Hybrid? Hell Bent tries to give us an answer – but ultimately it boils down to Moffat using the Hybrid as a buzzword throughout the series to make people think there was an arc, only for the curtain to be pulled back at the end to reveal… nothing. This episode is also hurt by its context – following on from the mighty Heaven Sent, Hell Bent just seems weak by comparison and lacks the emotional impact that the previous story had. Not only that, but Hell Bent also includes some highly questionable writing decisions – why bring the Doctor back to Gallifrey if by this point he doesn’t even seem to care about it? Why waste the amazing departure of Clara in Face the Raven only for her to come back to life here? Why have the Doctor shoot a man in cold blood, even if by this point he has gone insane? Clearly, Hell Bent raises more questions than it answers, which is never a good thing for a finale.

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9 – Journey’s End

Speaking of wasted potential, here is another classic example of a finale episode that is vastly inferior to its predecessor. Unlike Hell Bent, Journey’s End is actually praised by the majority of the fanbase (probably because it is a Tennant episode) but what most people fail to realise is that the episode didn’t deliver anywhere near what the fanbase deserved, and we know this because the previous episode, The Stolen Earth, was basically perfect. I mentioned in my How to Fix article on this finale that one of the main reasons why Journey’s End seems lackluster is that it takes what The Stolen Earth set up and throws it all away – All of the cliffhangers that were set up are resolved almost immediately with little effort, The Daleks were a real threat in The Stolen Earth but by Journey’s End they are reduced to being spun around like malfunctioning dodgems, and Davros lacks all the subtlety to his character that Russell had written in The Stolen Earth, instead appearing as a ranting raving lunatic who cackles like Emperor Palpatine. Another major thing that hurts this episode is all the stakes from the previous one are gone. Did anyone actually think the Doctor would regenerate, or that the TARDIS would be destroyed? Of course not. And to top it all off, the Tenth Doctor shows his true colours by using his mind powers to wipe Donna’s memory against her will, even though she had his intelligence and so should have been able to make the decision to live or die herself. Overall, Journey’s End disgraces the Daleks, Davros, the Doctor and the show all in one, but it definitely gains points for having the most returning companions in a single episode, including Sarah Jane Smith, Martha, Rose and Captain Jack, as well as crossing over into the spinoff shows The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood.

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8 – The Wedding of River Song

It has to be said that, for all this episode’s faults, it does actually deliver a plot resolution that was satisfying and added to River’s arc. Since we had already found out in A Good Man Goes To War that River was Amy and Rory’s child, it was unexpected that we would get another big reveal about her character so soon, but the reveal that she is the Doctor’s wife rounded off an arc that had been started all the way back in Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. In typical fashion for Eleventh Doctor finales, the entire episode takes place in a strange alternate universe, but this doesn’t necessarily hurt the episode in any way as it allows for some really interesting and satisfying concepts to play out – for one, Amy brutally murders Madame Kovarian, a villain I despised, so that definitely works in this episode’s favor – also, the idea of Amy and Rory falling in love even when they have only just met seems strange at first but actually works really well in the episode. Overall, whilst not a particularly strong episode, The Wedding of River Song definitely delivers as a finale, although it is not among the best.

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7 – The Name of the Doctor

With the 50th Anniversary on the horizon, The Name of the Doctor had more to do than other NuWho finales – it had to not only conclude the Series in a way that was satisfying, but it also had the task of setting up The Day of the Doctor, which was no small feat. Overall, it succeeds at both tasks in some ways, as it does provide a conclusive answer to who Clara Oswald is an why she is important, whilst also giving us a great reveal of the War Doctor, which came as a huge surprise. Not only that, but it even manages to set up the Doctor’s regeneration in The Time of the Doctor by giving us a look at the planet ‘Trenzalore’, alleged to be the Doctor’s grave. The Name of the Doctor also brought back the Great Intelligence, a relatively minor Second Doctor enemy who (for some reason) got special attention as a returning villain in the Eleventh Doctor’s era despite Moffat claiming that ‘forgettable’ villains like the Rani don’t deserve a comeback. Seriously, Moffat? But I digress – The Name of the Doctor, like The Wedding of River Song, is definitely not one of my favourite episodes of NuWho, but as a finale it serves its purpose whilst also setting up the 50th Anniversary special effectively.

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6 – Last of the Time Lords

This episode can be summed up in one word – strange. Concluding the three-part ‘Master Trilogy’ containing Utopia and The Sound of Drums, Last of the Time Lords does a great job of showing just how much of a threat the Master can be when he puts his mind to conquering the world. For all the faults in the characterisation of the ‘Saxon’ Master that is not consistent with his appearance in the Classic Series, he is a formidable foe in this episode and the stakes are really high, and the twist at the end and how the Master achieves his ‘victory’ came as a genuine surprise to a lot of fans who expected the character to pull a classic ‘I’ll get you next time’ and somehow escape. Whilst the ‘time-reversal’ technique is about as sloppy as the writing gets on Doctor Who, in this episode it is somewhat justified and set up from the very beginning, making it forgivable – although the final scenes that cross Return of the Jedi with Flash Gordon have not aged well at all, particularly given the Master’s lackluster return in The End of Time. One of the best things about Last of the Time Lords is Martha, who really shines in this episode, proving her worth as a companion and essentially saving the Doctor, her family, the planet and all of human history, as well as being the only Tennant-era companion to depart the show with a shred of dignity.

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5 – Doomsday

Children of the nation were ecstatic at the prospect of an episode featuring a war between the Daleks and the Cybermen in the run-up to this episode, and generally on that front it didn’t disappoint – Doomsday delivers quite an action-packed episode considering the BBC budget, and the episode delivers a heavy-hitting emotional ending that keeps Tennant fans weeping to this very day. The only thing that brings Doomsday down is the sloppy focus – the episode had so much going on: Torchwood, the Cult of Skaro, Cybermen, Jackie and Pete’s relationship and Mickey and Jake coming back – all whilst trying to deliver the Doctor and Rose’s final adventure together. Overall, though, the stakes are high throughout, there are some great scenes with the Daleks and the Cybermen, and as finales go, Doomsday‘s ‘companion departure’ scene is both brutal and beautiful at once. Highlights of this episode are definitely the brief but intense battles between the various factions at play in the story, and the reveal of the Genesis Ark as a dimensionally transcendental prison that spews millions of Daleks across the nation definitely stands as one of the greatest Dalek moments of all time.

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4 – The Big Bang

The first finale of Steven Moffat’s run as showrunner gave the fanbase an insight into how his methods of conclude a series vastly differed from that of Russell T. Davies – who preferred to conclude his seasons with a bombastic action-packed finale – in that The Big Bang is a far more low-key and personal episode that any NuWho finale we had seen prior. In sharp contrast with the armies of Daleks, Toclafane and Cybermen we had seen in Russell’s tenure, this episode contains only one Dalek, and a classic runaround in a deserted museum that just so happens to be on the cusp of the end of the universe. The relationship between River and the Doctor is explored a little more (without giving too much away) and Rory gets to stay as an Auton for a day, giving him an awesome character-defining moment as he saves Amy and Amelia from the Stone Dalek with his hand-blaster. In keeping with the theme of the universe collapsing in on itself, The Bing Bang has some quite spooky moments in it to, and some that leave an eerie feeling that something is wrong – particularly the distinctive “You know there’s no such thing as stars”. This finale ties the arc of Series 5 together wonderfully, and the inclusion of the scene in which the Doctor speaks to Amy on the Byzantium (that had appeared in the episode Flesh and Stone, albeit out of context) proves that Moffat does understand the concept of a flowchart of events, who would have thought?

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3 – Death In Heaven

As far as episodes ending on both a reveal and a cliffhangar are concerned, few beat the conclusion to the Series 8 penultimate episode, Dark Water. Thankfully, the finale Death In Heaven follows up on the fantastic reveal that Missy is the Master with an action-packed finale that would have brought a tear to Russell’s eye. Moffat proves he can write a wonderful Doctor-Master dynamic as Twelve and Missy work wonderfully together, and this episode also provides a satisfying conclusion to the ‘Welcome to Heaven’ arc that had permeated throughout the series. Not only that, but the episode actually follows through with the death of Danny Pink in the previous episode, going so far as to convert him into a Cyberman and providing some really heavy-hitting emotional moments as he battles with his intense shock and horror of being dead while Clara desperately tries to save him. This episode proved quite controversial at the time due to the dark tone and horror themes threaded throughout, but in hindsight this only adds to the episode’s shock factor and emotional weight. Overall, Death In Heaven showcases some of the best that the Moffat era has to offer, and is certainly in the top 3 finales of NuWho.

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2 – The Parting of the Ways

The original NuWho finale, The Parting of the Ways established several important factors that would become staples of most NuWho finales in the future, and yet it still ranks higher than its immediate successors simply because of the masterful ways in which it depicts the final moments of the Ninth Doctor’s life. The final battle in the Game Station remains one of the best plot devices for a finale of all time – each scene builds the tension higher and higher as the Dalek army slowly crushes all resistance and closes in on the Doctor as he is forced to make some heartbreaking choices to save both the Earth and his companion Rose. One of the highlights of this episode is the Emperor Dalek, now completely insane and convinced that he is a God, as he rants and raves with his deep, guttural take on the standard Dalek voice (that makes it clear Nicholas Briggs had a blast recording), gloating at the horrendous acts he has committed. Christopher Eccleston’s time as the Doctor was short-lived but he manages to leave his mark on the show’s history here more than anywhere, as his defining character moment at the climax of the episode proves just how much the Doctor has learned since the Time War and shows that he is no longer the vicious warrior that the Time War forced him to become. Any doubt that the public had about a new series of Doctor Who were swept away once and for all after The Parting of the Ways, and Tennant’s cheeky grin as the closing theme’s howls drew the episode to a close left audiences wanting more. So the question remains – what NuWho finale could beat this?

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1 – The Doctor Falls

From the first NuWho finale to the most recent, the obvious choice for number one is The Doctor Falls. Jam-packed with just the right amounts of action, heart, fanservice, emotion, terror and hope, this finale had a tough job following on from the equally legendary World Enough and Time, and yet The Doctor Falls met expectations (and in some ways surpassed them) giving fans a finale that helped catapult Series 10 to the top of many ‘Best Series’ lists. For a start, this episode is the first televised Multi-Master story,  and although Big Finish had done a Multi-Master audio in 2016, the chemistry between Simm and Gomez gives this story the edge – the entire arc of Missy’s story as well as the Master’s arc in NuWho in general culminates in this episode, and it does not disappoint. Secondly, this episode is perhaps one of the most emotional yet – everything from Missy’s demise, Nardole’s departure, the Twelfth Doctor’s death and, of course, the aftereffects of Bill’s traumatic Cyber-conversion in the previous episode all coalesce to make this finale arguably the most heavy-hitting. The only factor in The Doctor Falls that brings it down is Heather’s seemingly random appearance at the end – many fans have compared Bill’s ultimate fate with that of Clara’s from Hell Bent, and although the circumstances are similar, Bill’s situation was set up in advance and seems far more warranted, as Bill was definitely a more likeable character and deserved a happy ending, at least in my opinion. The highlight of the episode, by far, is Capaldi’s speech on kindness – not only does this speech conclude his arc as the Doctor as he finally understands what kind of man he is and what his place in the universe is far, but it also links this finale all the way back to The Parting of the Ways whilst also defining the character of the Doctor overall in an impactful speech that will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the greatest Doctor Who moments of all time. Ultimately, The Doctor Falls concluded Series 10 on a high note, proving that Moffat can write a consistent two-part finale once again, has some of the best performances in Doctor Who, and delivers the fantastic finale that Series 10 deserved.

So that concludes our list ranking the NuWho finales. Do you agree with this list? What was your favourite NuWho finale? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and if you enjoyed be sure to leave a like, or follow Sacred Icon either here or on Facebook for more content like this. Thanks for reading!

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How to Fix – Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks

Welcome to the latest article in a series called ‘How to Fix’, in which I will be offering my opinion on how to improve on stories from various entries in different franchises, in this case I will be focusing on a specific New Series Dalek two-parter in a similar fashion to my previous installment. It must be noted that not all of the films, games or episodes that I will be talking about in this series have to necessarily be ‘broken’ in order to fix them, simply that these articles will offer alternate means of telling the same stories.

The divisive Series 3 two-parter Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks took some truly great sci-fi concepts and executed them in the style of a B-Movie. The episode is infamous for several reasons – the song-and-dance routine, the strangely phallic face of the Human-Dalek Hybrid, and the premature destruction of three-quarters of the Cult of Skaro. Considering that their last appearance had been in Series 2’s Doomsday, an episode that was not only hard-hitting emotionally but also featured the first instance of individual Daleks escaping at the end, presumably to get revenge on the Doctor at a later date. Overall, Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks had a lot to live up to and, despite its potential, it just didn’t stand up to previous Dalek stories in the revival. So, to begin:

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Do more with the concept of the ‘Cult of Skaro’, and the character of Dalek Sec

By far the most interesting aspect of this two-parter is the individual Daleks themselves, and tragically the episode does little to capitalize on their uniqueness as characters. The concept of having a secret order of specific Daleks that have the adaptability and intelligence to scheme beyond the capacity of an ordinary Dalek is interesting enough, but to have this small number of Daleks used as antagonists throughout multiple seasons is an even more interesting idea. For one, it would eliminate the problem that the early NuWho series’ had with Daleks apparently finding more and more inconceivable ways of surviving the Time War, as having a tiny number of survivors reappear as recurring villains is better than having to come up with a different excuse as to why Daleks are around each series. Unfortunately, Evolution of the Daleks in particular does away with this concept a little too early, killing three out of the four Cult members in their second story.

Admittedly, the character arc for Dalek Sec in this story is spectacular, and the execution is fairly effective as well (apart from the phallic protrusions on the Hybrid’s chin, but the less said about that the better). Having Sec sacrifice himself at the end to save the Doctor illustrates just how far a bit of Human DNA can go in rehabilitating a Dalek, even one as committed to the cause as Sec, and his hybridization and subsequent struggle with gaining human emotions is both an interesting concept for a Dalek story and a great spanner to throw into the works of the hierarchy of the Cult. The problem is that, upon killing Sec, Evolution of the Daleks disposes of Daleks Thay and Jast as well, in a pointless firefight that ultimately solves nothing, when realistically these two Daleks should have escaped with Dalek Caan as their characters had barely been developed when they were unceremoniously killed off.

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Do more with the supporting characters

Although Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks constantly reminds the audience that it is set in New York, with the presence of the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and Hooverville serving to ground the audience in both the location and the time period, unfortunately the supporting cast of this episode are given strangely little to do in the grand scheme of things. Ultimately, the only real purpose that Martha, Tallulah, Lazlo and Frank serve in the final episode is discovering the the Daleks have attached Dalekanium to the Empire State Building, and this discovery is ultimately pointless as the Doctor fails to remove it in time anyway. Daleks In Manhattan manages to give its supporting cast a little more to do, but overall following the death of Solomon the Doctor assumes all the main narrative roles in this story, which is odd considering usually Dalek stories rely primarily on the companion to figure things out whilst the Doctor strikes up an ideological debate with his foes.

Unfortunately, at the crucial point at which this might have been useful, the Doctor totally fails to engage with the potential of the Dalek Sec Hybrid. It should be noted that, upon the death of the Hybrid, it is truly unclear whether or not the Doctor actually trusted him at all – he does refer to Sec as ‘the cleverest Dalek ever’, but in typical fashion the Tenth Doctor seems to be totally indifferent to the destruction of this opportunity to recreate the Dalek race from the ground up, instead being seemingly more focused on berating the Daleks for their lack of foresight rather than genuinely grieving the reformed Sec.

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Rework the Dalek’s plan so that it makes sense

Clearly whoever scripted this episode had no idea how genetics actually work, or how DNA and life relate to each other in the real world. As many fans will already know, Doctor Who has always been about suspending disbelief for the sake of narrative enjoyment, but in the case of Daleks In Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks this actually hurts the story as the suspension of disbelief is simply unnecessary. The Daleks would surely have the know-how  to create Human-Dalek hybrids even with primitive technology, but the logic of ’emptying’ human bodies to be ‘filled’ with Dalek DNA is about the stupidest way of presenting this concept. Why not just have the Daleks growing the new Hybrid soldiers in tanks, and requiring the lightning strike to bring them to life? Or, heck, just have the lightning strike be there to power their Emergency Temporal Shift to escape to the future – the Daleks could have just revisited the concept of Robomen and indoctrinated Humans into doing their bidding rather than using the seemingly redundant Pig Slaves.

Overall, most of what makes Daleks In Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks is the mishandling of the Daleks themselves as the main villain – it would be easy to tweak this story to save the Cult of Skaro storyline whilst still keeping its emotional impact, and circumventing some of the stranger concepts in favor of more familiar Dalek concepts would make this story more popular with Dalek fans.

So those were my thoughts on how to fix Daleks In Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks. I hope you enjoyed, and if you did then be sure to leave a like and you can follow Sacred Icon either here or on Facebook, and for more content like this have a look at the Read More section down below. Thanks for reading!

 

Doctor Who – Summing up the Moffat Era, or ‘The Tale of Two Moffats’

What is the scariest thing ever imaginable to a Doctor Who fan? A Dalek? A Weeping Angel? The possibility of a second 15-year-long hiatus? Perhaps any or all of these could be considered, but the undoubted victor is the thought that, if one Moffat wasn’t enough, there might actually be two Moffats, and when one of the Moffat’s tenure as showrunner comes to an end, the second Moffat moves in to take his place. Those who reacted to that statement with the appropriate cold dread need not worry, however, as this process has already occurred, we just didn’t realise it at the time…

As Summer 2018 begins to show itself, it really does seem as though a new era is dawning for Doctor Who fans, who recently witnessed the departure of one of the longest running (and most controversial) showrunners in the history of the series. Steven Moffat, the man who at the time of his announcement as showrunner seemed to be the perfect choice to take on the responsibility, has now proven after 8 years at the helm of one of the most well-known and beloved franchises in history that regardless of raw talent, budget, direction or sociopolitical context, the ultimate key to maintaining a reputation is consistency. Most of the British public first heard of Steven Moffat following his string of fantastic episodes throughout the Russell T. Davies era, namely The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink and Silence in the Library/The Forest of the Dead, and it was because of the consistent quality, scare-factor and thought-provoking premises of his episodes that Steven Moffat earned the reputation for one of the greatest writers that the show had seen, and perhaps even of all time. But what happened during his tenure as showrunner that seems to have split a fanbase, that already had lasting divides, into the camps of ‘pro-Moffat’ and ‘anti-Moffat’?

The answer is, of course, not exactly clear. From a basic perspective, the tone of Moffat’s era differed drastically from that of Russell’s, in that whilst Russell focused on grand epic battles, emotional drama and the impact of the Time War on the Doctor, Moffat shifted the focus dramatically onto a much smaller-scale side to the Doctor’s life – the domestic life that he elects to pursue with Amy, Rory and River Song, whilst also changing the way the show itself presented the Doctor – rather than having the idea of the Doctor as a wanderer who amassed power through influence that Russel went with, Moffat instead constructed the idea of the ‘fairy-tale’ Doctor, a mad magician who saves the day in the most whimsical way possible. This encapsulates the earliest divide in the NuWho fanbase, as many fans who were used to Russell’s incarnation of the show lost interest as Matt Smith’s era reached its sixth or seventh series because the show simply wasn’t the same anymore. From a modern point of view, this split is easily spun to signify the ‘death of Doctor Who’ – naysayers at the time predicted that the show would never reach its fiftieth anniversary – but as most Doctor Who fans know by now, Russell’s era was just an era. It was a popular era, no doubts there, but as with all the best eras of Doctor Who, it had to end eventually. Unfortunately, many fans who were dissatisfied with Moffat and had only watched NuWho up until this point decided that Doctor Who would never be the same again, and so jumped ship.

However, this only explains how the ‘anti-Moffat’ camp first came to be, and there is certainly a lot more to the school of Moffat criticism than just preferring Russell’s era. It must also be pointed out that, amongst a sea of Moffat critics in the early 2010s, there were a vocal minority who believed that the show was better off without Russell and that although Moffat hadn’t exactly delivered a batch of 13 episodes that could all rival something like The Girl in the Fireplace in quality, Series 5 was still a very strong series. Even today, Series 5 is highly regarded as one of the best outings of NuWho, which is made all the more interesting when one factors in the idea that Series 5 is one of the few NuWho series that does not rely on any pre-existing marketable material – aside from one episode with the Daleks and a cameo of some old monsters in the finale, Series 5’s series arc revolved around something entirely original, something that Russell had never even attempted. In a similar manner to the change in focus, Moffat also seemed to change how the show treated its recurring elements – rather than relying on the Daleks for finale-filler like Russell did, Moffat instead put faith in his own ideas. Things like River Song and The Silence became much more prominent in the early years of Moffat’s era whereas races like the Daleks and the Cybermen barely got a look in. This would seemingly mark the next step in evolution for ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ Moffat factions – the idea that the show needs to rely on the Daleks and Cybermen is ultimately self destructive, and yet fanboys like myself simply cannot bear to see a series of Doctor Who without them, and thanks to a series of lacklustre cameos and the abysmal Asylum of the Daleks many Dalek fans opinion of Moffat turned sour.

Of course, there are many more reasons why the fanbase split on Moffat, and even more explanations as to why his writing quality appeared to decline between Series 6 and 7 – blame is often put on the attention dedicated to Sherlock, the poor characterisation of new companion Clara Oswald as well as a general lack of direction in the Silence/River Song story arc. But following the success of the 50th Anniversary Special and the regeneration of Matt Smith into Peter Capaldi in 2013, hindsight tells us that the old Moffat must have given up and walked out, with the fresh second Moffat ready and waiting to take over the show and make it his own, because when Doctor Who came back in 2014 it was totally different from anything NuWho had seen before, and the changes wouldn’t stop there. Capaldi’s first series was still very much a Moffat creation – it contains his narrative mannerisms, his method of misdirection when it comes to revealing crucial plot points, and his… ‘unique’ way of writing dialogue between men and women. But the focus of the show shifted again, and for many it seemed to be shifting back to the same things that Russell had focused on. Whilst Matt Smith’s era practically ignored the Daleks, Capaldi faced them in his second episode that drew heavy inspiration from the first Dalek episode of Russell’s era. Cybermen appeared in the finale of Series 8, this time as a worldwide and present threat rather than as a babysitter to James Corden’s baby or as a fairground attraction as they had been in Matt Smith’s era. And not only that, but Capaldi’s era saw the return of two essential classic series villains who had featured in Russell’s era – the Master, this time in the form of Missy, and Davros. Capaldi’s era still had lingering elements of the ‘fairytale’ interpretation of the Doctor from Matt Smith’s era, but the universe it presented dropped any pretence of the whimsical feel of Moffat’s tenure that we had seen so far and instead seemed to ‘reboot’ the modern Doctor Who universe, bringing it more in line with what Russell constructed throughout his tenure and allowing fans who disliked Matt Smith or his era to make a ‘clean break’ and pick the show back up.

Ultimately, this is where the notion of the ‘two Moffats’ comes from – on the one hand you have Matt Smith Moffat, whose era is seemingly self-contained, has little impact from either the classic series or Russell’s NuWho, aside from a handful of obvious examples, such as the cameo appearance of an Ood and the Russell era control room in The Doctor’s Wife, a mention of the battle to save reality from Journey’s End in Victory of the Daleks and the appearance of an Ice Warrior in Cold War, to name a few. Generally, however, Matt Smith’s era relied on its own internal logic, its own original villains and its own original characters to get by, almost like a show within a show. On the other hand, Peter Capaldi Moffat came along after Smith’s era was done and decided that Doctor Who needed to wake up and resume many of the ongoing plot threads that had been on hold during the Smith era – namely, the Doctor’s relationship with the Daleks and Davros, the Doctor/Master friendship/rivalry, the impact of the return of Rassilon and the fate of Gallifrey. Capaldi’s era also sees many reappearances from races or characters in the show’s history that serve as more than just cameos – the Mondasian Cybermen and John Simm’s Master in the Series 10 finale being the most significant. But what can be gleaned from all of this? It is hard to compare the two Moffats, since both have caused their fair share of controversy within the show’s fanbase, and ultimately the decision comes down to personal preference between Matt Smith’s era and Peter Capaldi’s. But next time the inevitable debate over ‘who is better: Russell T. Davies or Steven Moffat’ pops up, remember that the actual debate should be ‘who is better: Steven Moffat (2010-2013) or Steven Moffat (2014-2017)’

And that concludes the terrifying tale of the Two Moffats. I hope you enjoyed, if you did be sure to leave a like and you can follow us either here or on Facebook for more content like this. Be sure to check out the ‘Read More’ section below, and thanks for reading!